Time travel/Theories

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Main Article Theories about
Time travel
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 Theories may be removed if ... 
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  2. More appropriate for another article.
  3. Illogical or previously disproven.
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See the Lostpedia theory policy for more details.

Time travelling is the cause of much of the island strangeness

When the 815 survivors crash on the island they begin to encounter all kinds of strangeness. What they don't realize is that much of what they are seeing are the after-effects of their own time travelling, which they haven't yet experienced.

  • Destiny: we are told numerous times that you cannot change the past. Whatever happened, happened. Consider this in the context of John Locke's time travelling. He travels to 1954, two years before his own birth, and nothing can change that. Whatever happened, happened. Therefore, from the time Locke is born until the time he fixes the Frozen Donkey Wheel and teleports off the island, he cannot be killed. This is why he was able to survive being born so prematurely, why he survived the 8 story fall, why he survived being shot by Ben. If he had died at any point in his life he would not have been on the island when Ben turned the wheel and would thus not have been on the island back in 1954. But he already was, and that can't be changed. In effect, the result of the time travelling created a situation in which these people's future had essentially already happened. Locke was on the island in 1954, which cannot be changed. Thus he had to be on the island in 2005 when Ben turns the wheel, which means he had to be on flight 815 when it crashed, and so on.
  • Immortality: as described above, the effects of the time travelling can cause a sort of immortality. Consider Michael and his failed suicide attempts. The reason Mike could not kill himself, or be killed by any other means, is because Jin was with him on the freighter trying to defuse the bomb. But immediately after Jin leaves the freighter, then Michael can die, and does so. This is because after seeing Michael on the freighter, Jin travels back in time. While Jin is in the past, he had already experienced this meeting with Michael on the freighter. If Michael had killed himself in 2004 he would not have had that meeting with Jin on the freighter, but Jin back in the 1970's had already experienced that meeting. That meeting was in Jin's past and could not be changed. Whatever happened, happened. Thus Michael could not die until this meeting occurred, but once it had occurred he was, as Christian said, free to go.
  • Charlie: given the two examples above, Charlie's destiny becomes clear. Charlie had to die because all those who travelled back in time knew that he had died, although none of them had experienced his death directly. Only Desmond experienced Charlie's death directly, and he didn't travel through time with the rest. Therefore, the people who went back in time knew Charlie died but did not know exactly how. This established that Charlie must die, but left it vague as to how. This is why when Desmond began to have visions of Charlie's death, he was unclear about how it would happen. It was destined that Charlie must die, but the manner of his death was not part of that destiny.
  • Island crashes: there are several instances of people "accidentally" crashing on the island. Desmond's sailboat, Yemi's Beechcraft, Rousseau's boat, the Black Rock, and of course flight 815. The cause of the 815 crash is known: Desmond's failure to press the button caused an electromagnetic surge which pulled 815 into "island space" and caused it to crash. We see similar electromagnetic surges or flashes every time Locke and friends travel from one time to another. Is it coincidence that Locke flashes to the same point in time that the Beechcraft crashes? Is it coincidence that Jin flashes to the same point in time that Rousseau's boat crashes? The electromagnetic surges caused by the Frozen Donkey Wheel being off it's axis are not only moving Locke and friends through time, but are also causing these island crashes. The time travelers jump to several times which are unidentified, one of which brings them to a point where the Tawaret statue is still intact. It seems likely that these flashes are what cause the Black Rock and Desmond's sailboat to crash on the island, and may even be responsible for the Roman ship crashing on the island.
  • The DHARMA Initiative: when Locke and friends travel back to 1954 they tell both Richard and Eloise that they travelled through time from the future. It is likely that Charles would have found out about it too, given his relationship with Eloise. The DHARMA Initiative went to the island for the express purpose of tapping into the island's time travelling abilities, all the other scientific and humanitarian goals of the Initiative were merely a cover for their real purposes. It seems possible that the DHARMA Initiative initially learned of the island's time travel properties because Locke and friends travelled through time and told people about it. We know Charles was spending time off-island and thus would likely be the source of this information. So it becomes entirely possible that the presence of the DHARMA Initiative on the island came about as a result of Locke and friends time travelling.
  • Island moving: Eloise explains at the Lamppost station that the island is always moving through time and space, thus requiring the complex Lamppost equipment to find it. Ben and Locke are instructed by Christian to move the island, and upon doing so the island begins moving through time and space, as shown by it's sudden disappearance while Frank Lapidus is attempting to land the helicopter on it. When Ben turns the Frozen Donkey Wheel, it is this which causes the island to always be moving through time and space as Eloise describes. While it may not make sense given that the island was moving long before Ben turns that wheel, but such is the nature of time and time travel. Once Ben turns that wheel to move the island, it creates the condition where the island was always moving. Dislodging the island from time dislodges it from all time, not just from one point in time forward.

Jacob's enemy orchestrated the Time Flashes to manipulate John Locke

While at first the time periods visited seemed random. This is because we were learning about them primarily through the eyes of several different survivors. However, when focusing on John Locke's experiences only, and using current insight regarding the events of the Season 5 finale, a pattern begins to develop: John Locke's experiences during his time-traveling better serve to enhance his faith and his connection to the Island, and these experiences were a direct result of the manipulation of time traveling by an outside force; conceivably and specifically, Jacob's enemy. Let's look at John Locke's final moments on the Island:

"Because You Left"

    • The Beechcraft First time jump; 1990's-ish. A crucial moment in John Locke's history with the island was the discovery of this airplane and the events that transpired. Look it up. Huge impact on John to experience this crash firsthand. This would likely influence his faith that the Island is guiding him somehow. Then he is shot in the leg and left for dead. Until...
      • Meeting with Richard. And guess who else? Jacob's enemy in John's body, and Ben listening in the distance. Jacob's enemy manipulated Richard to go over there. The words that Richard used to persuade John were the words of Jacob's enemy. He was minipulating all of them. John's mission is to leave the island, retrieve the Oceanic 6 and Ben and bring them to the island for some unknown purpose. This is also where we learn that John might have to die to accomplish this. So the flaw in logic is that the man impersonating John Locke after the return to the Island on Ajira 316 would have to know that John would die, and that the success of this plan would somehow lead to the events of "The Incident" for all parities involved. He would have to know the future. However, conceivably an enemy that had the ability to time travel might know a thing or two about the future or the past.

"The Lie" and "Jughead"

    • The Flaming Arrows. During "The Lie" the survivors, not including John Locke, are attacked on their camp by a mysterious group or archers. After they escape, They reunite with John, after he saves them from a group of people in U.S. Army fatigues. We learn in "Jughead" that these individuals were a group of people living on the island including Charles Widmore, Eloise Hawking, and...
      • Meeting with Richard, part 2. Part 1, technically. John makes his way into camp and meets with a version of Richard who is meeting John Locke for the first time. We know that John has a history with Richard. We know that Richard visited him in the hospital the day he is born, and that it was this future/past John that suggested he do that. Richard visited him as a boy, and was always telling John how special he was on the Island. Richard has a ton of faith in John. I think that this is the direct result of this experience. My belief is that the individual who is causing the time travel is using this particular experience to manipulate Richard Alpert. He will listen to whatever John Locke says to him. John always speaks the truth, and Richard recognizes this through all of his experiences with John over the years. So when Jacob's enemy comes to town in John's body, no matter how outrageous his demands, Richard will always obey.

"The Little Prince"

    • The Hatch, dude. The Hatch! After another time switch, John Locke and his people are taken to a night that happened a few months prior during Season 1 of the show. The events of that night at the hatch, where John sees the light from the underground facility is one of the most important moments from John Locke's life. The moment his faith is solidified. John is calling out to God, and God answers. Of course, it's not God. It's Desmond. But that doesn't matter. For the character of John Locke, this seals the deal. He has total faith in the Island. Whatever happens, John is going to go full force. Now he knows what he has to do. He is going to follow the path set out for him by Jacob's enemy without question. He thinks he is doing what is best for the Island, for his friends, and for himself and his devotion, but he's not. We know now that it was a manipulation, and I believe that John had to come to this decision by no other means. The enemy knew that John would have to experience a string of miracles, as he always does, before he would be convinced to do his bidding.
      • Back to the Future The survivors travel through time again. Probably to now. It is a time after Ajira 316 has crashed on the island. They are persued by unknown assailants. They travel again, out of harms way. It's 1988 and Danielle and her team of Scientists are living on the island. There are a series of jumps through time before John finally makes it to the Orchid station to complete his task of leaving the Island. These time jumps do appear to be more random in nature, but the rapid pace with which they occur begin to take their toll on the individuals involved. Charlotte, Miles, and Juliet could be dying. People everywhere are lost and alone. John is the only one who can stop the turmoil. While the current events of the time periods visitied may not have any direct impact on the storyline of John Locke, the well-being of everyone on the Island is his priority as leader. They arrive at a modern version of the Orchid Station, before quickly being transported to an earlier time where they find a well that John Locke enters. While John is going down the well, the group is taken to a time before a well even existed. The result of this is John ending up at the bottom of the well with a broken leg. Very similar to what happened during "Because You Left", John is injured (in the leg), and meets with an eerie individual who instructs him further on his path. This time it is Christian Shepard. We don't fully understand yet who Christian is working for, or the how or why. He has stated in the past to John that he represents Jacob and his desires. We don't know what's going on with that. But he has the information that John needs to return to the island after he has fulfilled his mission. He also tells him how to leave. John leaves with the assistance of a big wheel.

"The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham"

    • John travels to the modern day in our dimension to reunite the Oceanic 6 and return them to the Island. John is a failure in his mission and is filled with self doubt. He discovers that maybe Richard was right. We know what happens after that. John dies. This new guy takes over John's identity. For what greater purpose, we cannot know, yet. Part of that plan involves manipulating Benjamin Linus to kill Jacob, with some assistance from Richard Alpert. Things that have been set in motion for some time, but at least begining with the time traveling.

Time-traveling triggers

  • There are different triggers to a time travel event: flashes of light, contact with certain metals, and exposures to bursts of electromagnetic energy or radiation. Desmond time travels three times when he touches metal. The first time is when he grasps his chair in the helicopter during the turbulence, the second time is in the restroom, and the third is when he is picking his metal coins off from the ground. It is plausible that the first episode was triggered by a flash of lightning, but note the scene is edited to show that when Desmond grasps the metal side of his chair he is simultaneously grasping the rail of his cot in the army.
    • This has a lot to do with electromagnetism and the fail-safe key and the times when Desmond spoke to Mrs. Hawkins.
    • Desmond flashes back to the helicopter without being in contact with metal. Neither does he touch the tap water. Red herring.
  • The triggers are that Desmond doesn't want to be in a certain situation. He time travels when he is scared on the helicopter and just wants to be with Penny. He time travels when he is being yelled at by the army officer, when he is pushed by the other soldier and in other situations when he wants to be elsewhere.
  • Faraday, Ray and Widmore all have an understanding of ways that time travel can be triggered.
  • The numbers are triggers. It will be discovered that some of the the flashbacks and flashforwards are actually time travel.
  • Although the triggers seem random, there are mathematical solutions. Time travel works like a pendulum in motion. Desmond is the ball swinging back and fourth from two different positions (1996 and 2004). Desmond (and Minkowski) are basically stuck on five-ball pendulum, except on a larger scale that involves space, time, electromagnetism and gravity.
  • It was revealed in the official podcast that the Desmond from 1996 is the one doing the time skipping. Therefore, when Desmond was in the helicopter and it veered a bit off course, it essentially pulled the Desmond from 1996 into 2004. The very first time skip was when 1996 Desmond (who was probably sleeping at the time) went forward into his body in the helicopter for a few seconds--just long enough to realize that he was in a helicopter. A few seconds later he was back in 1996, now fully awake but thinking that maybe what he just experienced was a dream. The odd thing about all this is the comparison between what's happening with Desmond and what happened with Eloise. Both Desmond and Eloise experienced something that acted as a trigger that sent them into the future, but while Eloise's trigger was in her PAST, Desmond's trigger was in his FUTURE. So a trigger can either SEND or it can PULL.

Lost is a Very Simple Story Told from the Perspective of the Most Confused Characters

Time travel is the key to understanding the plot of Lost and is used in much the same way as amnesia was used in Memento to play with the chronological order of the story. Conventional plots take the linear progression of time as a given, so cause follows effect allowing mere mortals to understand and contribute to the plot's development. In Lost, however, there are two characters whose perception of time is seemingly non linear possibly this enables them to time travel or vice versa.

Jacob and the MIB's actions are inexplicable to those of us who experience time as a linear progression. Why put a list of names in an Ankh in the 1970s? Because in 2007 it'll be needed to prevent the Oceanic survivors from being shot. Why build a Great Big Temple here? Because 2,000 years later it'll be needed it to shelter an obtuse Japanese man and his hippie friends. Why lay several items on a table and and asked John to pick one? Because 50 years in Richard's past and 50 years in Locke's future he'll give Richard one of them. The only people who understand what's going on in the Island are Jacob and the MIB as they can travel in time.

All other characters do not know what's going on. Each character who has been introduced previous to Jacob has appeared to hold the secret of the island only to be shown to be as confused as the survivors. Ben who once was presented as the mastermind behind the secret was in fact talking to an empty chair and receiving orders from slips of paper and lists. Richard's recent crisis of faith stems from him placing his belief in Jacob who he trusted no doubt because only he and the MIB know how things'll work out.

They are not equipped to understand because their ability to travel in time is severely limited if not nonexistent.


  • Time moves at the same rate both on and off the island, but, as Faraday said, time is "perceived" differently on the island.
    • Reason: The date on the boat (Dec 24) is very, very close to the number of days they have been on the island (by Lostpedia count, the date of "The Constant" would be Dec 27, not 24), which is just an error on either the writer's or Lostpedia contributors.
      • The date on the boat may actually be Dec 26. Minkowski said the communications equipment had been destroyed 2 days earlier and no one had been in the communications room since to mark the calendar
      • Or part of the time anomaly that has not been explained.
    • Reason: With all the talk of black holes and such, the perception of time depends on one's relative velocity. The helicopter, which moved at a slow speed away from the island appeared to take days to reach the ship to the people on the island. The projectile traveled much faster and took only 30 minutes. The phone's data traveled at the speed of light and arrived instantly.
    • Reason: When Desmond calls Penelope from the freighter she says during the conversation that she has been looking for him for the last 3 years. This would suggest that time is moving at the same rate due to previous information pertaining to Desmond being on the island for the last 3 years.
  • Time moves at the same rate both on and off the island (as it must). It is only while traveling between the two that the difference occurs (see special relativity).time dilation by which time is condensed for the person or object that is traveling to/from the island, i.e., time appears to move slower for persons or objects in motion.
    • Scientific Support: Time dilation is an accepted scientific theory that is a central part of Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
    • Minkowski (spelled same as the character) spacetime is the mathematical setting used to solve Einsten's equations of special relativity ( If (special) relativistic time dialation was occurring, it would be observed for massive objects (objects with mass, ie - the rocket and helicopter) but not for radio signals traveling at the speed of light. BUT at the speeds (<< speed of light) of the rocket and helicopter, the time dialation according to special relativity would be minimal (fractions of a second), not minutes or hours. Time dialation may be occurring due to general relativity (curvature in Minkowski spacetime) due to some unknown source - this would explain the precise bearing required (and the extra numbers) to navigate the helicopter.
      • Time moves at the same rate, but time between any two points on & off the island is not in sync. Thus a zone of distortion exists around the island bridging the time difference. The distortion of time changes depending on the position where one encounters it (a non-uniform 'time field') by heading back at the same speed and heading as one entered the 'field' you would be shifted by the same amount of time ( +30 mins on the way in, -30 mins on the way out). Going at different speeds and directions will cause you to arrive in a different time then you left ( -10 hours on the way in, +5 mins of time on the way back out).

(see Black hole (theory))

    • Factual Application/Support:
      • The missile loses 31 minutes traveling to the island.
      • The helicopter loses a day going back to the freighter.
    • The amount of the time dilation is likely related to the bearing used and the speed of the object moving.
    • Time dilation does not have any direct effect on radio signals passing through the electromagnetic gateway. That is why they are able to communicate with the freighter using the satellite phones in real time.
      • Energy/Matter moving at, or near, the speed of light is not subject to the time-field around the object
  • The island's time moves differently than the rest of the world.
    • Reason: Sayid mentioned to Frank that they left the island at dusk, and when they arrived on the freighter it was in the middle of the day.
    • Reason: No one actually confirms what day it is off the island.
    • Reason: The Calendar is meant to keep up with the time that the Survivors have been on the Island since the crash, not a real-time/off-the-Island calendar.
      • Penny is phoning in front of a Christmas tree
        • It may be around Christmas, but not necessarily 2004. If time on the island moves slower than time off the island, it could actually be 2005 or 2006.
          • Penny did say "I have been trying to look for you for 3 years" so maybe it is Christmas 2007 not 2004.
            • Desmond left and crashed on the island in 2001, so it's still 2004
            • Surely Penny is looking for Desmond before Oceanic 815, maybe since she saw him last time or since he disappear at the race around the world (she knows something about it by her father). That's why she have an listening station at the pole and look for Des by radio, heard by the freighter.
  • The calendar date should not be trusted. When the writers go to the trouble of having a character point something out (Sayid's mention of how close to Christmas is it), it is almost never an idle comment; there's more to the dates and times than we're seeing.

The need for sedation to go to the Island is related to the effects of Time Travel

The mixture Richard Alpert gave Juliet was to prevent time-split mind. The mixture was simply a sedative. If a person is without a consciousness at the moment they cross the barrier then their consciousness cannot time-split.

Time Travel and Flashbacks are different levels of the same condition.

When entering and leaving the island, people suffer from disorientation and can become unstuck in time. It seems this only occurs if you are hit with a large amount of radiation. The disorientation can cause aneurysms and eventually death. People who are already on the island experience flashbacks. No character that has never been to the island has ever had a flashback. Perhaps coming and going without the influence of radiation causes the relatively minor problem of having lucid flashbacks. These flashbacks are almost always accompanied by a character looking thoughtful or introspective… but these looks also often constitute a rather dazed expression. Perhaps the mental effects of time jumping (brain aneurysms) are suffered during flashbacks on a smaller scale (quick headaches or minor disorientation).

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